Why Schools Should Be Organized To Prioritize Relationships

Kindergarten teacher Falon Turner greets every student at the door when they enter for the day. She uses that time to check in and make them feel seen. (Edutopia)

Over many years researchers in the learning sciences, psychology, anthropology and neuroscience have learned a lot about how humans learn. One of the key properties is malleability. The brain changes in response to relationships and experiences, continuing to develop through young adulthood. And while the children in any class will develop differently based on their experiences, the brain will grow and change with the right inputs.

"What's most interesting is a child can become a productive and engaged learner from any starting point, as long as we intentionally build those skills," said Dr. Pamela Cantor, founder and senior science advisor of Turnaround for Children, in an Edutopia video on bring learning sciences into the classroom.

Strong relationships can prime a person to learn. And for those who have adverse childhood experiences, strong relationships can mitigate the negative effects of trauma. Schools organized with relationships as a priority can benefit children in many ways. In this Edutopia video, teachers share how they make time and mental space to connect with students.


"I prioritize relationship building, because getting to know them is the best part of the job," said English language arts teacher Catherine Paul.

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But it isn't always easy to show up in the vulnerable, open ways that lead to authentic connections with kids.

"It starts from so much honesty and transparency with kids. It's really easy to strive to be this like idealized, always ready to go, elementary school teacher. And that's not real, and that's not human," said teacher Lindsey Minder. "My students connect most with me when they see that I also struggle, and I also have challenges. It takes a lot of vulnerability on my part."

One easy way to start the day with connection is to greet students at the door.

"During that time I'm just trying to connect with them, help them with their transition from home to school, and just kinda take a pulse check on where they are," said Falon Turner, a kindergarten teacher at Van Ness Elementary School.


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It's an intentional way to look each child in the eyes every morning and let them know that who they are, how they feel and what they bring to the classroom matters.

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